According to a NY Times piece today, “A top Central Intelligence Agency official [identified as Stephen Kappes, the agency’s deputy director] traveled secretly to Islamabad this month to confront Pakistan’s most senior officials with new information about ties between the country’s powerful spy service and militants operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas, according to American military and intelligence officials.” The CIA official reportedly presented evidence that showed that members of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) “had deepened their ties with some militant groups,” specifically the Haqqani Network [see right image of Maulavi Jalauddin Haqqani, and, for more information on the Haqqani Network, read this piece from the Jamestown Foundation] that were connected to the surge of violence in Afghanistan, including the suicide bombing this month of the Indian Embassy in Kabul.
According to the Times, “The decision to confront Pakistan with what the officials described as a new C.I.A. assessment of the spy service’s activities seemed to be the bluntest American warning to Pakistan since shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks about the ties between the spy service and Islamic militants.” However, the AFP reported Wednesday that Pakistan (not surprisingly) rejected the “malicious” CIA report, asserting that it was “unfounded” and “baseless.” Pakistani military spokesman Gen. Athar Abbas told the news agency, “I would like to emphasize here that the ISI is a premier intelligence agency which has caught or apprehended maximum Al-Qaeda operatives including those who were linked with criminals and responsible for attacking the U.S. mainland on September 11, 2001.”
Although the CIA assessment is significant, it is not surprising. This past weekend, a directive to shift the ISI under the Interior Ministry garnered major attention among Pakistani media outlets. Although the PPP-led government published a press release soon after “clarifying” this decision, speculation over the ISI’s tug-of-war continued, with sources suggesting the move “had been part of a deal with America,” [see CHUP’s previous post on the story]. According to an article from The News, the decision was “deeply linked” to Gilani’s visit to the U.S. this week, as the PM would likely “be put on the spot in some of his top-level meetings, confronted with evidence that some out-of-control parts of the Pakistani agencies, either with or without Islamabad’s nod, were working at odds with the U.S. goals and this has to be curbed by the political government if it wants generous economic and political support from Washington…”
The NY Times report, therefore, seems to affirm this previous assertion and is likely to further validate Washington’s concerns on the matter. A piece in today’s Washington Post reported, “Bush administration officials have responded with skepticism to an appeal by visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for increased intelligence cooperation, which he said would help his country attack militant groups and terrorist encampments near its border with Afghanistan.” One Bush administration official told the Post, “The problem from our perspective has not been an absence of information going into the Pakistani government…It’s an absence of action.”
Although Gilani’s Washington visit appeared rosy on the surface, with both governments exchanging pleasantries in front of reporters, [see related CHUP post], the Post noted, “there was little indication that tensions over their respective contributions to the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban had eased.” The tensions were further illustrated on Monday when a U.S. missile attack killed seven people in Pakistan hours before Bush and Gilani met. Although the U.S. claimed the target, AQ operative Abu Khabab al-Masri, had been killed, Gen. Abbas told reporters that U.S. officials had not notified Islamabad before the attack, adding, “There was no information from their side…They have struck like this many times. We are trying to convince them to share information.”
According to media outlets, Gilani asserted that such attacks violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. In an interview with the Washington Post yesterday, the PM noted that if Pakistan had the capacity and information, “then we can hit [such targets] ourselves. Otherwise, it’s a violation and nobody [in Pakistan] will like it.”
The recent PM visit (looking beyond the pleasantries), as well as today’s report on the ISI’s alleged ties to militant groups, may mark the beginning of a deterioration of U.S.-Pakistan ties, both at the diplomatic level, and at the intelligence (CIA-ISI) level. Will this lead, however, to a unilateral U.S. strategy in Pakistan? Daniel Simons from the Council on Foreign Relations advised in an op-ed today:
Washington should seek to redefine relations with Pakistan, which evolved ad hoc after 9/11. Detailing how we expect Islamabad to help realize mutually agreeable aims is a necessary step toward a more collaborative and sustainable relationship. Putting American troops on Pakistani soil would negate any potential benefits of the Biden-Lugar legislation, [referring to the legislation to triple U.S. nomilitary aid to Pakistan].
Essentially, he added, “An assertive, unilateral U.S. military strategy is more likely to compound our problems than to solve them.” Given the anti-U.S. sentiment already evident in the region, such a statement is likely to ring true.